Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Very Good Ending - An Excellent Spectacle

21 July 2013

The French also know how to do a sound and light show as well as anyone. To do it on the Arc de Triomphe was kind of cool. Now its over. The right guy won. The right guy got all the jerseys. A few bad breaks cost a few riders. But its over.

I forgot to mention three other riders who made their name, became more well-known as a result of this Tour. For example asking Richie Porte to lead the team through the first lap onto the Champs was very tasteful. Although it is impossible to say, I am pretty sure that Porte was the single most important factor in the actual race, the main guy Froome could rely on when nearly all the rest of the team was not around. The exceedingly pleasant surprise of the team was not Ian Stannard, who can ride forever, but Peter Kennaugh. Peter is known to be good,but I think he came of age in this Tour. No telling where he will go, but somewhere good. He was like a kid on the Champs Elysée today. Brilliant.

The winer of the stage was Marcel Kittel, one of the finest sprinters in the world, the best sprinter in the Tour, and also young. While I wonder what might have happened if Cav had not hit the awful road imperfection, or pothole, in the last few metres, I think new have to agree that Kittel did all he could to be the new “fastest guy”. Cav will win stages again, even beat Kittel. Greipel too. But at the present this tour has made the reputation of Marcel Kittel.

A few other random observations, since there is nothing to say about anything else. Today was not really a racing stage, more like a celebration. Good move to have the Sky Team ride in together across the road. Good for them, good for photographers, even at the cost of 21 seconds or whatever. Very appropriate that Quintana won on Colombian Independence Day yesterday. In addition, it was a pleasure to watch him be revealed as a new young brilliant climber. A little work on the ITT and he could win. A note of regret for Lieuw Westra the rider who had to abandon ON the Champs Elysée today. Really bad break. One last word for the appalling taste of Thierry Adam, for calling riders by gratuitous and sill names or haunting them with history of no consequence. White Kenyan, Bad Boy (Cav), should really be put away in the attic. I also hope they continue going round the Arc, it was way better than the usual up and down, although I doubt they can paralyse the car freaks of paris more than once. Great Light Show!

Its late. I stayed up watching to the end. I have done my duty and had my fun for the year. It has been a very good Tour, verging on exceptional quite often. It was a pleasure to watch. Just enough boring stages so that I could catch up on real life a bit. But some excellent days of racing.

For me, Kwiatowski was the “revelation of the year”, with Quintana and Kittel more being revelations we already knew a lot more about about. Those three are the podium for me. Movistar was the best team, by far, contributed the most to the Tour. Most pleasure for me, not having to write much about doping, nobody busted, no police, nothing but lots of NON-evidence based speculation. Extra prize to the owners of the Tour for designing an excellent parcours, which the riders took advantage of pretty well. Even on the last stage, things changed and watching the top three attack and ride together up the last hill was very well conceived and executed.

Fantasy team results. League one: 250/1000 and 3rd out of 28 (my forum). Other team 20/28 (my forum). League Two: 3595/9454 and 6th out of 9 in my forum. League Three: 2/6 on my forum and 91st out of 584 overall. So I am OK, but nothing special, better than average. I had a few bad breaks, like one team where three of the nine riders scored zero and never finished. But everyone has bad breaks. One guy on our forum, a very obsessed guy with inside connections, fished first in two of the leagues in which we were all involved, plus two more. He does good guesses.

I should be back, barring exceptional events, next year. See you then.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Quintana Wins at Last

20 July 2013

The Tour is nearly over. I admit this last stage worked out nearly perfectly. Very good racing from several riders. Rolland did not get the KOM jersey, which will upset some French people, but one of the two best climbers in the race won it. Nairo Quintana. Stage win, young rider's white jersey and KOM jersey. Quite a debut. No one will say “who?” after this performance. He is now going to be one of the favourites for any stage race he enters, and any mountain stage he rides. Rolland gave it a try, but he simply is not the best climber. Full stop. Not even by the slightly warped system that is used by the Tour to determine that jersey. In my mind, he lacks any sort of racing intelligence. And somehow his directors do not tell him what to do. It was rather apt, almost poetic to watch the three podium finishers ride up the last hill together, with Valverde trailing slightly and Talansky trying really hard to make the top ten. Rodriguez made some effort to drop the other two, but they were as good as he was. Froome made an attack to clean out the rest of the riders, or for some reason that I don't understand. I am pretty sure he did not want to win the stage, even if he could have. Bad taste. Rodriguez led them up the climb trying to find a few seconds to get hm on the podium. Quintana waited until the end, then simply accelerated to win the stage. Valverde never gave up, and got fourth. Contador just did not have that little bit extra today, or even during most of the Tour. That is, he was as good as anyone but the very best, but he was not the very best. We even saw young Talansky dig deep, so he caught and passed Contador. Tejay should have been there too, but the young have to learn somehow.

Before I go into any details, I LOVED seeing Jens Voigt out in front for so long. The guy is the oldest guy in the peloton and he simply rides like the wind forever. Admittedly he can't climb like the actual climbers, so we knew he would probably get caught. But if he had won, it would have been ever better. Quintana has many years to win stages, and he will. Jens, he went out on a high. Although for all we know, he will be back next year. What team would leave him out of the Tour. He could ride for anyone.

The results of the stage followed the previous patterns. More an evolution that a big change all at once. Quintana and Rodriguez moved up one and two places respectively to make the podium. Contador dropped down two place to make room for them. Alberto was one of the losers of the day, and as far as I can tell, he ought to change his training methods. The idea that he was constantly saying he would be strong in the third week was silly. He should be ready the first week, and get stronger as time goes on. He was badly prepared. He should be ready and strong in the first week. I am beginning to believe he really is not serious enough and spends too much time at home with his family. He is so good he will win a bit here and there, but until he buckles down and gets serious, his glory days are over. Maybe he does not care. His teammate Kreuziger dropped one place, but he was helping Alberto at all times. So it is very that he finished that well, overall and on the day. He will be one rider who might wonder what would have happened if he had been free to go on his own. Mollema and Fuglsang both kept their places. I hope they confirm their level in the near future, and this is not just a one off. Mollema no doubt will, I am not so sure about Fuglsang. Valverde moved up one place to be solidly anchored in the top ten. He must still be slightly annoyed about his wheel, and the wind at the exact moment he needed a new one. Andrew Talansky moved up two places to join the top ten. Navarro dropped one place, but he also made the top ten.

Other small losers of the day were Laurens ten Dam who dropped another two places to what I think is his rightful level, 13th. Rogers also dropped two places, but he had a simple job this year, and finishing in the top ten was not part of the job description. Helping Alberto win was his job. Everyone else in the top twenty pretty much stayed the same. Andy Schleck finished in the top twenty. Bravo. I surely hope he gets his act together, and gets serious about training and riding at the top level. Otherwise he is a has-been, even a rider who never was what he could have been.

As far as the jerseys go. Quintana won the spotted jersey and the young jersey, both throughly deserved. That guy is going to make cycling history. As the older cyclists fade a bit, it is always reassuring to see the new ones move into the limelight. Sagan and Froome have not really been threatened since they took their jerseys. That's about it.

Just as they would wish, I want to visit that area for sure one day. The lake was lovely, and my wife loves that area, so it will happen, one day. And tomorrow we get Versailles and the Champs Elysée at dusk. I am hoping for a Cav win. He might not win that many more stages in the Tour with all the young guys coming up. Today one of his rivals, Sagan, did a one handed wheelie and a back wheel skid as he came over the line with his four teammates. I suppose Sagan will try to win on the Champs, but he does not have to bother, maybe he will let the true sprinters duke it out.

The flops this year were guys like Evans (perhaps the biggest flop of all), Hesjedal, Dan Martin (illness?), Matthew Goss (who never even showed up for a decent sprint), Pinot and Bouhanni (both for injury or illness reasons, but also because they were not ready for action), Tejay van Garderen (who showed he could have been a player, but was not), Voeckler (who was invisible) and Schleck (who promised a bit, but never even delivered on that). The riders who either surprised or confirmed what we already knew, especially the young ones, were Quintana, Fuglsang, Mollema, Kwiatowski and Talansky. But I also think that many were surprised by the “best French rider”, who was Romain Bardet. Those of us who follow cycling closely knew about him, but he did show us he can ride a three week Tour pretty well. Not as well as Quintana's first Tour, and he will never beat Quintana, but still, good job.

From another blog, Inring. And if you want to know the difference between the pros and the amateurs, Ramunas Navardauskas was the last finisher on Mont Semnoz was still faster than the winner of the Etape du Tour, the cyclo event held on the same course two weeks ago. Navardauskas has been racing almost every day for the last three weeks.”

Still too early to say how my various fantasy teams did, but I have hunch two of them did very well indeed, one was very mediocre, and the other slightly above average. In any case, they really do add a bit of interest. What can I say about my abilities in that direction? Above average maybe, but not all that wise, knowledgable or careful in my choices. It would be so much easier if I had a pal who also was picking teams, someone I could talk to about it. But most of my pals would not waste their time on such trivial useless stuff. Still.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Rui Costa again, No Real Attacks

19 July 2013

Not much challenge to Froome today, the attacks did not happen, the Maillot Jaune is decided. Barring exceptional events, that race is over. Sky took it easy today, cruised up the first two fairly tough climbs at a speed which tried to keep the whole team together for at least the flat bit after the two climbs. Although a huge escape was created, and the stage winner came from the escape (Yesss!), there was not much else that happened in relation to the yellow jersey. Movistar sent two riders up the road to get ready for an attack from either Quintana or Valverde which never happened. Contador and Saxo rode at the front, and although you could almost see Contador wanting to make a move, nothing much happened. There were many efforts to get riders from all the other teams into the escape as there was a peloton-wide inspiration from yesterday that the escape would make it. I should mention that Rui Costa won his second stage, much the way he won the first. He was in the break, and attacked on the last climb. Being a superb rider, he simply went up faster than anyone else, and won. Bravo Mr. Costa. If only Valverde had not punctured on that one day, at that one time, Movistar would have three riders in the top ten. Excellent riders too, Valverde, Quintana and Rui Costa. That could have changed things. No one likes punctures, especially at the wrong moment.

A little bit surprisingly, four riders made serious efforts to move up into striking position for the spotted KOM jersey, Hesjedal, Nieve, Riblon and most seriously Pierre Rolland. Pierre was the tragic French miss of the day. In fact he earned a rather big handful of points today, and was only one point from being the legitimate holder of the jersey. He will wear the spots tomorrow, and no doubt will make some effort on the first climbs to earn enough points to win the jersey. I assume he will have no chance of winning the last climb, which is worth fifty points. Too many in the top five trying to win a place on the podium by going up that last hill very fast indeed. In addition, any of Nieve, Riblon and Quintana all have a chance to beat him for KOM, either on purpose or intentionally. All are within a handful of points. Then there is Froome, the actual current KO, who might win it as a secondary effect of winning the stage while defending his jersey. But he won't, too greedy. If there is intelligence in Sky, he should ride just behind the guy who wins the stage. Quintana too will be quite happy to keep the white jersey, so if either of them win the spotted jersey it will only be as a side effect of actually being the best climber or trying to win the stage. However, there will be some kind of battle between the other four potential KOMs. None of them is even close to being the best climber. The best climber has to be Quintana or Froome, probably Froome. Should be one of the most interesting aspects of tomorrow.

The GC still can change, and did change today to some extent. But the top seven riders remained exactly the same, so it would be better to say it “evolved a bit” rather than claiming some kind of big change. I think the same will go for tomorrow. Daniel Navarro was one of the big winners today. As a consequence of the break he moved up five places to eighth. As a consequence of supporting Contador and finishing exhausted, Michael Rogers dropped six place to fourteenth. Valverde moved into the top ten, which is where he should be. Mikel Nieve moved up two places, but all the rest were more or less the same. There are now 47 seconds covering the second through fifth place, so somehow, somewhere, there should be some sort of battle for the podium. I doubt Kreuziger will attack Contador, but Rodriguez is almost certain to make a move on the last climb if they are all together. Good racing. That last climb, with the KOM jersey and the podium at stake could be loads of fun for us sitting at home.

Took a break in the middle of the stage to go swimming and took my nap, so I missed some of the action. Not a lot though. Mainly I missed the landscape. Choices.

The brand new surface of much of the Col de Glandon was only one example of how the state supports the Tour de France. The Tour does not pay a penny for that road work. We the taxpayers pay for it. But since the roads in France are, overall, superb, I am not complaining. I do love descending on a piece of brand new asphalt. Unlike the UK, where I hear the road surfaces are awful, we are really lucky in France. Admittedly I might rather have the millions spent of roads, spent on something else, but … And cars … more bikes.

Watching the English coverage, Chris Boardman was asked exactly how the categories were assigned for the various climbs. Although he said it was quite complex, he basically said he didn't know. No one really knows. Depends on the gradient. Depends on the length. Depends on where it falls in the route of the day. I have a rough idea how it happens, but it always seemed a little bit mysterious to me. I was delighted to know that it was a bit mysterious to Boardman. Some of the classic climbs are always HC. But others have more than one route, which can be different levels of difficulty. Apparently they also change category from year to year. Boardman claimed that the descent into Gap changes category from fourth to first. I would love to be in on the discussion of what category they are one day, just to listen. For that matter, eavesdropping on the route discussion would be a real treat. I do know they got the ones near us right. Fourth category are hills I could always easily climb, if way more slowly than the giants. Third category I have to be a little bit fit to climb, again slowly. Second category ones are a challenge, but I could do it, maybe resting once. First category and HC are climbs I would never even attempt (unless I stopped a few times) without being what I call “fit”, for me, a 68 year old. On some HC or even first, I might have to get off and walk on the steepest parts.

My wife and I have had fun playing a “flag game” on some of the climbs, especially if no one is attacking. So many flags, and so many we didn't know.

All the bikes weighed the other day were “legal”, each one at the 6.8k level, the lowest legal weight for UCI races. You might like to know that bikes are built these days which weigh well under six kilos. You can buy it, you can ride it, but you can't race it.

I should mention the heavy sudden rain or hailstorm that hit the race in the last few k. It might explain the lack of attacks during that period. I was sure I saw hailstones on the road. Heck of a downpour, reminds me of storms around here.

Beginning to get that feeling, the end of the Tour is nigh. I will have to deal with after Tour emptiness. I have two friends to see, a little trip planned, but still, it will be hard. I do love the Tour. In two weeks, it will be gone, life will be normal again. All that will be left is to read a few other reports and summaries of what happened. And a lot more time to swim, go to summer tourist events, see friends and ride my bike. I am pretty sure we will think it was a good Tour. Not great, but with several excellent days of racing. A Tour where one team and one rider dominate is never THAT good. One guy dominated the Green Jersey too. My fantasy teams sometimes did well enough. In one case, I might even win a kind of trivial prize, worth no money, just pride. Apparently the TV audience was immense. A good Tour. And we still have, after the hardest stage today, a stage which could see some serious changes. We need to pay tribute to the new young riders who were “revelations”, and we await to have them confirmed. The tragedies and missed chances. Plus the final under-the-lights sprint on the Champs Elysée, which always has a heavy sense of event to it. Starting at the Palace of Versailles too. Plus all the evaluations and doping controversies. A good Tour. Maybe very good indeed.

Good night.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The French Take a Stage at last

18 July 2013

I am utterly delighted that both someone from the break won the stage, AND that he was French. As it happens it was Christophe Riblon, but whoever, the French finally got their win. For me, it just ain’t right if the French put on a great show for the world, and never get to do a little “cocorico”. The TV commentators went on about the win at such great length that you would almost forget there is a race going on, in which no French rider has anything whatever to say. Still, I am glad he won. Did all the right things at the right time. Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed that Tejay didn't win, but he will have many more chances, he is young, and still learning how to win in the big time. At least he knows he was a player in the escape and was out front for a very respectable period. If he had only won the stage it might have saved the Tour for BMC, who have, overall, been a huge disappointment, especially given their budget. Money can't buy everything.

Huge numbers of people, huge. Lots of Norwegian flags, not many American ones, I noticed. I want to note that in spite of my own fears, the crowd did not create any bad incidents. If there were a million people on the hill (not counting dogs), and the riders went past twice, that is two million chances for someone to do something stupid and impede someone. Never happened. Close, but never happened. I should not forget that two million people can behave not so badly (except those silly clothes worn exclusively to get on TV), even if they have been drinking all day. Gives one a perspective on “masses of people” and “people as individuals”.

It was odd seeing them cruise up the Alpe the first time. I think there are club cyclists who can ride that fast up it. Just setting the scene. I viewed today on a giant home movie screen. Quite an experience, even if the picture was not as sharp as my home TV. The Col de Sarenne reminded me of the Pyrenees, not so built up as most of the Alps I usually see. Hardly anyone was watching there, so I guess the wishes of the ecologists were listened to by the organisers. They simply kept the people out. And the descent was not too bad either. Contador tried a seemingly pointless attack on the descent, but it came to nothing on the flat bit following. Overall, there was much fuss about nothing. I think the blog I cited yesterday just about got it right. No one much was taking risks on that descent.

As far as I can see, all the teams and all the big players were quite happy to let the escape go, and quite happy to let the winner be someone with no relation to the GC race. Then they could take it a bit easier up the climb, knowing that none of them was going to win.

Thierry Adams let loose with one of his spontaneous, unexamined commentaries again, but this time I wrote it down. Apparently Nibali is the best descender in the peloton (might be true, but there are plenty of other good ones), partly because he is Italian, and all Italians are great descenders.

So that left us with the race to the top. That consisted of the break, and the rest. Today we got a really clear view again of perhaps my favourite event, the dropping of riders on a climb. There are thirty or forty in the first few k of any “last climb”, and ten drop off slowly. Then a steep part comes or some rider accelerates, and another ten drop off. So at some distance up the climb, there is “the power group” (minus the former members of the top ten who have got dropped), amongst whom the biggest rewards are divided. Gradually one or two riders who were dropped earlier get back on, but a few more drift off the pace. Then there are just six or seven, and the serious stuff starts. I do love that sequence, which happens if there is a break up the road or not. Today the break started the final climb with enough of a gap so that three of them took the podium. Moreno Moser part of the family of Francesco Moser, cousins or something, plus Riblon and Tejay. Hurrah the escape.

As soon as Froome signalled a problem, that he need some quick sugar (although he also had no water bottle), Quintana and Rodriguez took advantage and grabbed a minute off Froome. Given that they are both over five minutes behind Froome, they will have to do better than that over the next three days. This was the first time that Froome showed a weakness himself. Good thing Contador was also having a bad day. Quintana moved up two places to third and J-Rod one place to fifth. Ten Dam and Mollema are beginning to fade a bit, losing two and three places respectively. Valverde will definitely pass Ten Dam in the next two days and push him out of the top ten. But Fuglsang seems quite stubborn. He seemed to get dropped, but then came back and moved up one place. Maybe I was wrong about him, or rather, I am almost certainly wrong about him but don't want to support him in any way. Other riders to note are Daniel Moreno and Romain Bardet who each moved up three places, but unless something untoward happens, neither will make it to the top ten. After a hopeful and brave attack, Schleck dropped two more places, almost out of the top twenty. The other massive loser today was Dan Martin. I was quite surprised not to see him most of the day and realised that he rode a terrible race, dropping nine places, almost out of the top twenty. No idea what happened.

So the top five are fighting for the podium (Contador, Quintana, Kreuziger and Rodriguez). Those are the only riders Froome has got to watch closely. If some other rider gets away, from another team, those four should mobilise to save their places, and not necessarily leave it solely to Sky. So in some ways, the next two days might be easier for Sky than one thinks. It all depends on whether anyone takes risks and attacks.

Quintana might well win both the KOM jersey and the best young rider jersey. It will be hard for anyone to take them away from him, assuming that Froome does not want to win the jersey and therefore does not try to win too many points on transitional mountaintops, ones that are not the last one on Saturday. I suppose another long attack from Talansky might do it, but who would allow that? And Froome might never let him win a stage, but that would not be gracious. If Quintana beats Froome on the final stage in the mountains, and also picks up a few points here and there he can take the KOM jersey. Will Froome allow this? I hope he has a strategy for that.

A word on Richie Porte. Brilliant. Should get a rise for sure, although how Sky will keep him for very long is not clear at all. Maybe with money. That one bad day surely did cost him dearly, although he is back in the top twenty for his trouble.

A note, total speculation. I told my wife that Froome should never ride up the second Alpe alone, nor should he try to win the stage. Under no circumstances. It would have been too risky, and also too greedy. He did exactly that, rode up in a group, until he went hypo, and then it seemed he was beaten, so he was protected from bad behaviour. There are way too many boos emanating from the crowd. They just lack manners and drink too much, and usually have no idea what is happening. Froome appearing to be normal, running out of sugar, losing time to Quintana and Kreuziger is very good for his security and for the mood of the race.

The debates are still going on about doping. Sky has offered some data to Frederic Grappe, a well known French sports scientists and trainer for FDJ. Of course this will not convince anyone, as they will say the data is not the real data, or will find some interpretation which means Froome is doping. Some even said they want data from before Froome worked for Sky, so comparisons can be made. Basically, Froome has the misfortune of being Anglo Saxon, looks funny riding his bike, does not have a long European history of winning, and is whupping everyone. And his team is rich. No way he will ever get out form under the shadow, although forgetting to eat enough might help him be seen as human and his team as capable of mistakes.

I am very much looking forward to the next two days. They start TV tomorrow at 11h00.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

ITT sets up the Three Final Days

17 July

I can tell the Tour is getting serious when I start printing out the GC, and the one from the previous day, before I write my blog. It means that something important is brewing, that there might be something more subtle than I notice immediately, that there are changes in the top ten. I want to try and spot something that I would not see, if I depending on my memory for the top twenty from yesterday and today, taking account of the results of the ITT. This is the time. This stage set the scene, although it would be more accurate to say the whole rest of the Tour set the scene. We have three rather difficult and hard stages to come. Think understatement. Two of them end at altitude, and one has loads of climbs but ends downhill. I have a bias toward uphill finishes, but I have learned over the last few years that downhill finishes can be quite dramatic to. Main thing is lots of big mountains! Coming up, sir, next three days.

Today was another stage win for Froome. And a bit of shuffling behind, revealing that Contador, Rodriguez, Valverde, Quintana and Kreuziger (at least) are ready to cause trouble. They are fit, but do they have a plan and the will? I even think Andy Schleck might try something. Or any one of number of riders. Those who are are well outside the top ten have absolutely nothing to lose. 16th or 27th, not a whole lot of difference, even for contract negotiations. A mighty feat, even if it fails, or a sparkling attack will be remembered. Froome showed us that he is consistent, ready to ride, willing to take small risks, and that his team will ride hard. I know the team are as ready as they can be, because no one on Sky rode hard today at all. They just rested up, ready for the skirmishes ahead. But even if Froome won, the gaps were not that great.

In fact, if you count going up or down by one place as being “not that important”, not that much happened to most top ten riders. Admittedly the difference between 10th and 11th or fourth and third is more important than MERELY one place. The time gaps are actually more interesting than the places, but require more detailed analysis and some numbers. Froome has 4 and half minutes on everyone overall. It is getting nearly impossible to see how and where any one rider is going to take that much time out of Froome. But if they did, it would be one of the most exciting Tours in history. It still might be, even if Froome wins. Bauke Mollema went down two places, slipping off the podium. Valverde rose up three places with his excellent time trial, really quite good. When Va;verde saw Froome he gave him what appeared to be a genuine handshake with a smile. Don Alejandro and Kreuziger should be reprimanded if they don't try something wild. Like winning the Tour. They can let Quintana just keep up and maybe get on the podium at the end of the three days. Michal Kwiatowski, the revelation, the Polish young rider, went up two places. This guy can do everything, except maybe beat Sagan in the sprints. And he can time trial and climb much better. Andy Schleck! He still can't descend very fast, but he seems to be back in the game. He rose three places with his 15th place ride, 2.27 behind Froome. It was a throughly decent ride, and I think that if there is no descent at the end of the stage, he may be fine. Oh, there is a stage like that tomorrow! And on Saturday. Nearly everyone wants to win on the Alpe. Gonna be good.

Overall in the time trial, there were not always great time differences, which does bode well for the next three days. Thirty seconds between Froome and fifth (Valverde), and the top ten all within two minutes. Usually the differences are greater on a hilly and very difficult ITT like this one. Some of these lads are ready! I was surprised to see Kwiatowski do so well. Even Valverde was better than I thought (damn that puncture). I now have to take Fuglsang seriously, but I don't want to. He is good, but he rides for Astana about whom I have “a thing”. I still would like him to fail drastically, and make space for Valverde or Talansky or even Schleck in the top ten. Ten Dam could go too. If Kwiatowski does not lose big time to the known climbers, like Talansky or Valverde, then we will know we have a total star being born.

One of the most remarkable efforts was that of Cadel Evans, a very good time triallist, on the flat or in the mountains. He finished eight minutes behind Froome, 167th, slower than nearly everyone in the peloton. His Tour has been awful. Maybe he is saving himself for one big effort. Maybe not.

Two slightly less important results. Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen have had bad Tours. Talansky was supposed to be in the top ten, contesting mountain finishes, although he is 13th today. Tejay was meant to be in the top ten, learning about how to win the Tour. He is in fiftieth place, one hour and ten minutes behind. Two young Americans, trying to take up the torch for the Yanks. I won't even review whether they just could not ride fast enough, or were victims of crashes or inattention. They just didn't ride well. But in the time trial it seems like they are getting back to what they can do. Tejay was the leader for awhile until the big fellows, the serious contenders, started coming through. He still finished tenth and Talansky ninth. They might well be actors of some importance in the next days, either as participants in an escape or as one of the last ten left on a climb. Tejay has no one to ride with, but Talansky could scheme a bit with Dan Martin (tenth).

The Tour is made up of little stories. The biggest little story of today was the crash of Jean-Christophe Peraud, the best placed Frenchman. He came down during a practice run, and decided that he would carry on, even though he probably has a fractured collar bone. Then during the race, while doing quite well indeed, riding fast and seriously, he crashed on the same shoulder. Tour over. But he will become a French folk hero, in a small way. Carrying on while injured is a great Tour story. But carrying on, and then crashing again, and leaving the Tour, that has an element of tragedy (or perhaps carelessness) that will make him more remembered more than if he had finished tenth or eleventh. I have already seen that crash five or six times and I close my eyes sometimes. Tragic hero of the day, hands down.

Short note to let you know that Thierry Adam, however difficult his job, is still more than annoying me with his small mistakes, cocorico attitude, harsh shrill tone full of false enthusiasm, and his poor reading of the race. They should sack him and try someone else. And yes, I do change channels, but he is the worst. Rather like Cedric's first year as the “expert” though.

If I had the time, and had the urge, I would keep track of exactly were all the riders did or did not change their bikes, and what kind of bike they rode before and after. I am not sure I have seen quite so many different choices and different places to change bikes in any ITT I have watched. I think Sky had the fastest change, although Movistar had also practiced the moves. Most of the teams seemed to just wing it. And I don't even know who rode what bikes for the riders who departed earlier, maybe they didn't have two bikes. Must have been a mechanics' nightmare yesterday evening and this morning.

Don't much like the way the French commentators are clinging to the “Kenyan blanc” label. They are desperately searching for some nickname and I know that one has been used. I think Chris does not like it much. It feels really tasteless and wrong when I hear the French use it. Don't really know why, but it grates. Even if he was born in Kenya and is white. He actually is dual passport, so they should say so. Those French have trouble with recognising someone as British if they are not born there. The French have trouble with “the meaning of having another passport”. Most countries don't. I don't think I hear Phil and Paul use that nickname. Its like when the English say Tommy Voeckler, when Tommy simply is not a name in France. Cedric was also heard saying Froome looks very good on a time trial bike. They still think he is ugly on the road bike. But then so is Voeckler and they don't go one about it.

Today was the day for the experienced riders to show themselves. Third week of the Tour, and the older guys are showing up for the fight. But what I like about the results of the stage is that both the young and older did so well. Same goes for the top ten. A rather nice mix of guys over 30, guys in the late twenties, and young riders, some in theTour for the first time. I would not have it any other way. I also like that there are two riders from more than one team in the top ten, and sometimes other teammates lurking just off the pace, but in good shape (like Valverde and Rui Costa, with Quintana). So, for example with Saxo, Contador and Kreuziger have Rogers lurking and quite fit. The strategic possibilities and sacrifices are endless. Garmin has Dan Martin in the top ten, but Talansky riding into form and willing to do some “wild work”. They have at least two terrific domestics in Navardauskas, and maybe even in Hesjedal, who I hope will do something or other in this Tour. He is on one of my fantasy teams. The material is there for a really excellent three days. The question is whether the desire to beat Froome strong, or will someone be happy with fourth, without attacking. The entire Sky team was resting today, ready for action.

I saw Quintana smile on the podium today. I think he is getting into the Tour very nicely, feeling a little more part of the scene.

Nice church in the middle of that lake. I wonder who thought that up.

So that's it, I am already very excited about the Alpe, as are apparently 700,000 to a million people who will be on that climb. TWO goes at l'Alpe in one day. How the riders get through that mass of spectators is always a miracle. If I were Froome, given the attitudes many people have toward him and Sky, and given that by the second time around the lads will be seriously drunk, I would be scared, or at least cautious. I would have a plan that I ride up most of the way in a small group, do not attack, or just follow an attack. I would never in a million years attack the second time up on my own. Fuelled by alcohol, the lads can do anything. I mean violence, in case you wonder. The Alpe is NOT my favourite kind of stage, watching the leaders climb, with hundreds of thousands of drunken lads on the sides of the road, or in the middle of the road trying to get on TV. Not to mention loose dogs, amateur photographers and kids. The descent from the Col de Sarenne seems to be for those who want a scary, veiled violence, risk your life kind of stage, this is the one. For amore reasoned analysis of this descent see

Until tomorrow. Should be brilliant.

Movistar Picks off a Stage

16 July 2013

Ed note.  Sorry, I was so tired last night I forgot to post this.

Perhaps you think that I am a died in the wool Francophile. Whatever I may say about living here and the rest of life here, the countryside they are taking us through is simply mind blowing. I will stop there, because in the next few days, I won't have to tell anyone who watches about that. One thing that makes it better than anywhere else (except maybe Italy) is that those roads have been there for centuries in some cases. They wander around, with incredible density, all over the place. And the surfaces are mostly excellent. So for riding a bike, or inventing a course for a bike race, you really just can't beat them. They have not been made for cars or lorries, so they are not easy to use for exploring all the bits of the landscape. Except where you have to walk. They are tricky. Plus they go up to ski stations. The combination makes the infrastructure superb, unmatchable really.

As for the racing, Rui Costa made a lovely move, timed perfectly, and executed with skill and guts. I felt really sorry for him the other day when he was force to work for Valverde (uselessly in the end) and dropped out of the top ten. This stage win makes up for that and I am really pleased. In addition, the break won! I always like that. Even if one could say the GC peloton “allowed” them to win. Makes it two races in one day, which doubles the pleasure. The dynamics of constructing the escape, and the way they do or do not work together, and the way it falls apart at the end, either on a climb or a sprint, is fun to sort out for a passionate, geeky spectator. This was no exception.

As for the GC competition that was not quite so interesting, although there were some moments. Contador seemed keen to attack, but Sky just kept pulling (or Porte did) and the brief attacks came to nothing. Movistar seemed to be keeping their powder dry for the next few days, but still made some moves.

Sky quite specifically train for attacks of some duration in the high mountains (they say 25 minutes). Michael Rogers talked about this a bit on a cycling news video. Sky continues to talk about it. I do really wonder if ALL the other teams use this method of training as rigorously as the Sky team. There are still riders, like Gadret, who admitted he sometimes takes six hour rides without looking at the computer on his bike. You can be sure Thibaut Pinot trains on “instinct” although he really means intuition. Brailsford said he was in no way surprised about the attacks of Froome, they practice all the time and Sir Dave says he could have gone faster. The attack that dropped Contador was only a few seconds of standing on the pedals, then settling down for one of the fastest cadence on a bike I have ever seen. The two attacks with Quintana had Froome standing up for much longer, and Quintana answered. The final attack seemed to just be Froome moving away and Quintana not keeping up. Frankly, it is my view that the old method, typified by Contador standing up constantly is a waste of energy. If you have the power sitting down is much better. I know this because when I stand up my heart rate always goes up, even if I don't go too much faster. I think we shall see more of this style of attack as soon as the other teams figure out how to train for it. I think the people who criticise it and are amazed by it just have no idea what it is like, cycling up a hill fast. Mind you, sometimes I wonder if I do anymore.

The French still have not won a stage, but they did get 2-3-4 today, which is close. I have no idea how they are going to take a stage, and am already feeling a sorry for them. Wait til next year. They have some very fine young riders. Even if none of them win much yet.

As far as the standings, not much change. Quintana leapt over ten Dam. Martin is now in tenth place. Talansky is creeping up a bit and might end up quite respectably. Just needs one escapein the mountains.

My French TV coverage never mentioned the notorious curve when Beloki came off and Lance rode over the field. I saw it twice. Never a mention. I heard the British coverage did mention it.

Froome and Contador crashing or riding off the road a bit was a quick reminder that anything can happen, on any day, at any time. But I am utterly delighted that there appear to be no serious injuries, at least at first glance with Contador. To have the top two wiped out for no really good reason would be a total drag. There are some very dicey descents to come, especially on Thursday coming off the Col de Sarrene. I think the other riders did slow down a bit and waited for the yellow jersey and the second place rider to catch up. The correct thing to do.

Although I missed it, there was a very good, long, and fairly deep interview with Brailsford after the French coverage. So far, everyone I know who has seen it, several guys on my forum and my wife, were all impressed. One day we will find out, but they were pretty well convinced that Sky is hiding nothing. And that Froome and his team are riding on legal stimulants.

There was a big thunderstorm here, which was not meant to happen. So we unplugged everything and I was unable to do much surfing today. I didn't even really look at the GC closely. After tomorrow and for every day after this, the GC will be changing here and there, so we will examine it more closely. I could not find Brailsford's interview although Idid check the French Channel 3 sports show and some of the British ITV 4. No luck. It will be in l'Equipe tomorrow for sure.

Looking forward to seeing a pal of mine from New Zealand tomorrow. So I might find it harder to write much. Some things are more important the Tour blogs. Assuming I wake up and the back feels a bit better. Three hours driving tomorrow morning, then three hours back the next morning is not to be taken lightly. This back flareup is a drag. Haven't even been on the bike for ten days or so. Although I have been swimming three times.

Good night.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Froome Wins on Ventoux

14 July 2013

Quite a day. Quite a hill. Quite a rider (or two). Although many have said (and will continue to say), including Greg Lemond, that the Tour is over (they mean the yellow jersey is own by Froome), I still have hopes. Pure stubbornness is all that gives me hope as Chris Froome had a splendid day, beat everyone on Ventoux, and is over four minutes ahead of everyone in the race. His team performed pretty well, two of the riders left for the hard part of the climb. And when they disappeared, there were only two riders left with Froome anyway, including Contador. Froome then made an acceleration that seemed to blow the mind of every person who saw it. Although Contador kept up with him for fifty metres or so, after that it was all over. Did he go too early? Nope. Could he beat Quintana? Yes. Did he make an effort to give Quintana the stage? Nope. Although I am not going to mention this but once, the forums and no doubt many spectators are talking about doping again. Test 'em, bust 'em. No idea why no one is suspicious of Quintana who has been without competition for two months while he “trained alone at home”. I won't yet waste my precious words with my own commentaries about doping.

Froome now has the KOM spotted jersey as well. I think I suggested that since there is no one who is really interested in the jersey, that it would be won, maybe, for once, by the actual best climber. Perhaps some other rider will nip off on one of the last two mountain stages and get enough points to beat Froome, but I doubt it. He is the best climber, for sure. But he will wear the yellow jersey tomorrow. My guess is that Quintana will wear the “best young rider” white jersey, and Mikel Nieve (who is not young) will wear the spotted jersey, hopefully without the shorts, although the red spots will clash with his orange shorts. But I am slightly uncertain about that, since Quintana is also second in the KOM competition and first in the young rider. Don't know for sure how that works.

Richie Porte seems to be back in good shape. His accelerations in front of Froome dropped a number of good riders, until he himself got wasted and pulled over. I think Froome only needs him and maybe two others to survive until Paris, given the terrain. Today however, the entire team was up front until the lower slopes of the Ventoux, when he had to make do with only three helpers. On the other hand, once you are on a big climb, you can either keep up or not. Froome's decision not to go after Quintana, when Nairo first dropped everyone with a steady acceleration, was clearly a wise one.

Is it possible to be the best climber and nearly the best ITT rider at the same time?

Valverde and his team made a splendid effort today, but sadly it looks like Valverde is not really up to that much these days. My prediction is that he and his team will continue to attack. Valverde has nothing to lose, he is so far behind, the only thing that will save his Tour is a stage win. Let's hope he gives it a go.

Rolland fell apart on the climb, he just is not as good as the best. Evans is pretty much finished for GC, but he did claim he will be looking for something to mark his Tour in the next few days. Contador got dropped, although he was the last guy left standing after Porte finished his work. Alberto and all the others have one semi-mountain stage, two finishes at altitude and a mountainous time trial before they have to throw in the towel. I truly hope that the rest of the pack will not be riding for a podium place, and will try to beat Sky and Froome. If they do we are in for some great racing. If not, then we still have some outstanding scenery upon which we can feast our eyes. There are two long descents at the end of hard stages as well. One can attack anywhere, going up or going down or on the flat.

One rider whom I don't really know well, but who is young and still in second place is Bauke Mollema. I am happy for the Dutch, who are apparently going bananas. They have not had a serious GC challenger for decades, it seems. Four minutes is a lot to make up, but nevertheless, second is almost first. And the guy is still young, not obviously at his prime. He was interviewed and said he thought Froome had won, that Froome is the best. If I were his team manager, given that they already have a new sponsor and that they are getting loads of publicity for their brand, I would persuade Mollema and ten Dam to attack. If they can, of course. The glory that might befall them would be immense. This stage was not so good for attacks from afar, since there was only one hill and it was at the end. But the next few stages are a bit more open, and my hope is that the strategy of repeated attacks, starting early on, will be tried by several teams.

I hope you caught the one armed wheelie by Sagan, when he got caught by the peloton. He leaves nothing to chance our oddball Peter. He got in the break solely to grab the 20 points for the intermediate sprint. He was successful. As long as he finishes the race, it is now not logically possible for anyone to beat him Unless they pick up all the intermediate sprint points and win on the Champs. There is no sprinter who can possibly do that. Not without Sagan being right on their tail.

Question I asked myself. Why was Europcar pulling so hard for so long? They have nothing to win with that move. I suppose they might have been pissed off that the break did not slow down enough for Rolland to latch on and get a head start on Ventoux. But that is such trivial vindictive behaviour, I don't believe it could be that. I will listen over the next day to find out. I ended up turning the TV off too early to watch the special feature, where the French TV is following Europcar every day, quite intimately. Rolland ended up in 34th place today, 34 minutes behind the winner.

Did you see that Romain Bardet finished one second behind Kwiatowski today, in the young rider category? Not bad for the Polish rider, as Bardet is “a climber” and Kwiatowski is not meant to be one. Kwiatowski is without doubt a huge revelation of the Tour, as are, of course, Quintana and Bardet.

Vincent Barteau and Greg Lemond were on the TV today. Once teammates, they were, according to Vincent in a long interview yesterday, pretty good pals. But they had not seen each other for years. And they acted like that when they were on, arms around shoulders, chatting. Good to see that. Although Vincent has not kept in good shape and Greg has.

Small incident but typical of what happens around “the Tour as a spectacle”. The French TV has been following Eric Fottorino (former editor of Le Monde and prolific writer about cycling and other stuff) who teamed up with many people including David Moncoutié (the road captain) to ride with 24 young people, the route of the Tour, the day before the Tour. Fottorino is quite a keen cyclist and is 53.Éric_Fottorino The youth are from all walks of life, various colours, and at least four women. They mostly ride at the same speed, together. I can't find an article in English, but if you read French, google “Tour de Fete Fottorino” you will find all you need. It is not to sponsor anything, just a dream Fottorino had. When people organise stuff like that, it brings tears to my eyes. Seeing the kids do well and do something so awesome makes my heart sing. One of many reasons why you can weep when you ride, or watch people ride Ventoux. It is like that.

Jerseys? Quintana took over the white jersey, and it seems unlikely that he will lose it. Although we might still have a bit of a fight with Talansky or Kwiatowski. Green=Sagan. Nice wheelie. Yellow, we don't know for sure, but could be sewed up. Mountain jersey, also might be dominated by Froome, unless someone tries hard to make a distant attack. Unlikely. But there is still much fun to come.

The internet forums really are going bananas about Froome being a doper.
Good night.

The Break Stays Away, Finally

13 July 2013

Very impressed with the size of the crowds around Lyon today, and even in the towns and villages on the route. Nothing seems to affect the number of people that turn out for the spectacle, even if most of them have little interest in the Tour, as far as racing goes. The stage, for once, did not give us any surprises. I am happy about that, as more than two days of tension and surprises and I start to unravel a bit. No idea how I am going to handle the next few days. Certainly Ventoux always springs a surprise or two. One of my fantasy teams, in a strange French fervour has Thibaut, Peraud and Rolland. I hope one of them makes a huge move and wins the stage, although somehow I doubt it. Even though it is 14th July. Still, maybe Romain Bardet will attack from afar.

For once this stage went according to some kind of normal plan. Escape early on. 18 guys in it. Big teams happy with the composition of it. Nobody dangerous, so the big cheeses took the day off. Mind you, taking the day off means they ride the course only 7 minutes slower than the escape, but still. Happy Days for someone like me, I love a successful escape, although there was not much last minute tension related to whether they would be caught or not. So the escape was permitted to win, the peloton rolled along at a decent clip, with the big fellows resting a bit for tomorrow. Mont Ventoux is the longest stage in the Tour and at the end, they climb the big hill, a climb which many people say is the toughest they know. Not everyone, but many.

The battle for the stage within the escape was pretty good for the last few k. I really enjoyed it. Many attacks, some looking good, but only the very last one succeeding. I thought for sure Simon or Rojas would win, as they are both sprinters. I also figured that Albasini might take it as he has tendencies to win from a small break. I was keen that Simon had made a successful attack, as the French have STILL not won a stage (admittedly nor have the Spanish or Dutch). But alas, it was another member of Omega, one of the best financed teams on the Tour, who won again. A young lad, Matteo Trentin, so I was happy. I like young guys to win a stage, and then keep track of whether that helps their career take off or whether today was the high point for Matteo Trentin. Trentin said he always had a turn of speed, and had learned a lot about sprinting working for Cav. Mainly “Wait!”. So I was overall happy with the result and the unfolding of the result.

There was some effect on the GC. But not on any of the jerseys, which remain on the same backs. I might not be able to say that about either the young riders' jersey or the KOM spotted one after tomorrow. With forty point at stake on the top of Mt. Ventoux, several riders, assuming that Rolland will be beaten by several, could put the jersey on. But the main effect was the rise of Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky. Each of them behaved a bit like young riders without much experience and made a complete mess of the first few stages. Tejay especially shocked many people. Talansky moved from 17th at 13 minutes to 12th place at 5.54. Tejay was not even in the top thirty, and now is STILL not in the top thirty. His Tour is a total disaster, except he is still in it and might be of some help to Cadel if he makes a move.

I note that there are only 3.28 between the second place and twelfth place. That is what I would call a very close race, so far. Admittedly Froome has his cushion, but a big attack or a couple small attacks and nearly anyone in the top twelve could be on the podium, and no one on the podium now can afford to make a mistake. Given that nothing is very secure, I am hoping for some wild efforts in the next few days. Froome might climb Ventoux 3-4 minutes more slowly than someone in the top ten. Maybe, but not likely. I have no idea if he will blow away all of them in the hilly ITT on Tuesday. If he beats them all on Ventoux and in the ITT, then one can still have hope for a surprise, but maybe it will be his race to lose, even after the ITT and Ventoux. AND he would still have two more very hard stages to lose time. He appears to be extremely strong, but this Tour seems a little bit more uncertain or surprising than most.

Bring on the big stuff. Blog a bit shorter tonight as as soon as the Tour was over, I went to a concert, a group called the Imani Winds. Then I drafted this, and grabbed a quick bite. Now, I am going to watch the fireworks. Probably too tired to do much after that except proofread for blatant errors. The fireworks were great, as usual. Not much blue, but this is a small town. The most popular entertainment of the year. Must have been two or three thousand people out along the river in the dark. I even stayed for the dance and the band. Fifteen piece group, five women dancers, two of whom sang. Two men singers. Two trumpets, Trombone, Tenor sax, guitar, bass, drum, keyboards. Good lights. Huge truck.

We know how to live. But I came back a bit early to post this off and get to bed at a decent hour.

Good night.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Valverde Punctures at Just the Wrong Time

12 July 2013

How dare I think it would be a flat uneventful stage? Well, I did. Small escape, brought back a few k from the end, was what I thought. Big sprint. And I expect maybe 95% of all commentators, professional or not would have agreed. Was I wrong! We got another surprise, and you all know how I love surprises. I must review everything later, but it did look like, with the wind playing a part, someone, not Froome, but someone just ahead of him, lost the wheel of the last guy in the first group. (Later I found out for sure it was Kwiatowski.) Clearly Omega or Movistar made the pressure, but I wonder who lost the wheel. Froome was right there, and did not panic, but called for his men after making an effort on his own and realising it was not worth it. Sadly for him, the help was not really there. His men were already far behind, except a few. Stannard and Thomas did serious work to try to bring back the break, but they could not compete with Saxo. There were SIX Saxo riders in that break out of fourteen. BMC helped for a bit to try and pull them back, but then decided to just leave it. Greipel's team helped for a bit, but not much. All that was left ws two exhausted Sky guys. So we got a demonstration of the power of Saxo. Nice demo. So far, we have had a Sky demo, a Cannondale demo, a Movistar demo and a Saxo, aside from the sprinter;s teams at the end of stages. Bravo for everyone who made that stage interesting. One major complaint. I really don't think that natural justice is served by having Valverde lose any chance of winning the Tour with a puncture. Not right. Not right at all. Still, that's the way the wind blew. We certainly don't mind bold teams that attack on the flat and surprise everyone. And Cav got his second stage. Great stage. Suspense until the end.

The Belkin boys also made their contribution and now find themselves in an excellent position (second and fifth) to try some one-two moves in the mountains to come. In case any of you are wondering what Belkin makes and where they are (although the team is formerly Dutch),Belkin International, Inc., is a California manufacturer of consumer electronics that specializes in connectivity devices.” Mind you, there are quite a few little climbs tomorrow. Maybe something more than what most thought would happen tomorrow will happen, a break will be allowed to get away. So now we have a GC where besides a few miscellaneous good riders, there are at least three strong teams with the possibility of moving up the GC, maybe winning the Tour. There is every reason for anyone to attack, since it is quite clear that unless they somehow take some serious steps, and maybe not even then, they might win. Sky makes mistakes and their riders are scattered all over the place. I really do wonder what has happened to Porte. He was riding really well all season, winning races, climbing well, TTing well, and suddenly after a bit of effort up a hill on Saturday last, he faded completely. I don't get it. I also wonder why they bothered to even bring Lopez.

The Omega team should be happy little bunnies today, they won for Cav in a rather unusual way. They got rid of every sprinter except Sagan, and Sagan is no match for Cav, even after a long stage. This means 25 stage wins for Cav, which means he is tied with Andre Leducq and has won more road stages than anyone in Tour history (Cav can't time trial well). I guess tomorrow it might end up with a sprint, but most likely the next sprint will be on the Champs Elysée. Cav would like to win that badly, but he has won four in a row and it might be time for someone else.

The wind, we often forget the wind in a race like this. Those of us who ride in Languedoc-Roussillon never forget the wind, but sometimes the other guys do. Not today. A bit unusual to have serious wind in that part of France though, so I can see they might have been surprised. Omega apparently had a good weather consultant on hire.

Saxo team was strong and smart, led and encouraged very well by Contador. A minute is a pretty nice chunk of what he was missing. Smart riding.

Overall, no jersey changed hands, but the GC was very slightly shuffled. Numerous riders moved up or down one or two places in the top 20, but with a couple of exceptions, nothing much was altered. Clearly Valverde was the big loser of the day, dropping 14 places, and pretty much guaranteeing he is off the podium this year. Mind you, this will leave him and Rui Costa free to help out Quintana. Another big loser was Rui Costa, Valverde's teammate, who dropped from ninth to 18th, due to being brought back to try and help Valverde when he missed the break. Bad day for Movistar. Fuglsang jumped up 6 places into the top ten, in fact sixth. All that with only a minute gained on most top ten riders. This shows that the gaps in the top ten are not immense, one good or bad stage can mean a lot. Sylvan Chavanel, Daniel Navarro and Andrew Talansky both made it into the top twenty. I would be happy if they ended up in the top ten. With the last week having a hilly time trial and four mountain stages, there are many minutes to be gained and lost. For example, in my estimation Fuglsang and Ten Dam and Peraud will drop from the top ten. Riders like Martin, Evans, maybe even Schleck might replace them.

What a wonderful day of racing. Very unexpected. The best kind of racing.

Good night. Off early tonight as I went swimming for the first time in ages, and I. Am. Tired.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Kittel beats Cavendish in Straight Sprint

11 July 2013

For those who like the Chateaux on the Loire, today's stage was excellent. You just can't beat the helicopters circling. For those who like sprint stages, it was instructive, even though, and we might be getting tired of this, there was a crash inside 3k … again. The riders must be getting a bit weary of it too. Especially EBH and Sky, as it seems the only serious injury is EBH's fractured, with word that he probably won't start tomorrow. With Kiryienko and EBH gone, Sky have lost a couple of valuable members of their team. Thomas is still lingering at the back of the peloton as well, so a team claimed by some to be “weaker than last year” is not still weaker. EBH is a stalwart for sure. Now there is no excuse for not attacking in the mountains. We might well be in for a fine last few days. Since EBH was one of my long time favourites I am particularly sad he is gone.

So there was a break, not a bad one really, and after many k the last guy, Flecha, was caught a few k from the finish. It must be said that everyone on earth knew it would be caught and that almost certainly there would be a sprint. Every team got lined up, but the second string sprinter form FDJ, William Bonnet, touched someone's wheel (Sagan I think) or whatever happens in a fast moving very close packed peloton, and he came down, bringing down maybe twenty riders. Other than EBH looks like no one got hurt badly, but I expect the start list tomorrow will have at least another rider missing. Andre Greipel was caught in the crash and was absent from the sprint.

The sprint itself was clean and tidy. Omega gave Cav a perfect leadout, with Steegman possibly leaving Cav a little far to go. On the other hand, usually when Cav is in front 200 metres from the end, no one can go past him, especially with his “double kick”. But maybe he left that kick in the Giro d'Italia, or maybe he just does not have it this year. In any case, Kittel took his wheel, and came from behind to beat him by half a wheel. Not a lot, but it was a clean win. That made three wins for Kittel, more than any sprinter in the pack. One more sprint stage tomorrow and then that could be it for the sprinters until the Champs. My opinion, worth very little since I have no inside information is that it is way too early to think that Cav is finished as a sprinter. He will win many races in the years that come, and he will certainly beat Kittel. Although Kittel will certainly be another “revelation” of the Tour. BUT when everyone is there, or when one or two of the very best sprinters are present with their trains, Cav is not the cast iron guarantee he once was. He is showing a little public annoyance (for me bad behaviour for a 28 year old) at being beaten so often, but also gives credit to Kittel for being a fine sprinter. But the era of the all-conquering Cavendish is over. Hope he does it on the Champs though. Although I think his record of four wins on the trot will take some beating, long after he stops riding. It does look like beating Merckx for total stage wins in the Tour might not be so easy to do. Probably get past Hinault on 28, but 34 might be hard. Reminds me of Federer chasing Sampras and Woods chasing Nicklaus.

None of the jerseys changed, no one lost time on the GC. So nothing to report, probably nothing tomorrow. And Saturday looks like a day when a break might finally make it to the end. A bit hilly. Having said that, the last sixty k or so don't have any big hills, just a few fourth category. So if the break doesn’t get a gap of ten or more minutes by then, they might finish in a sprint if the sprinters' teams want the victory. Most of those sprinters' teams have no one for the GC, and won't have to perform on Ventoux or in the Alps, so a bit of work might gain a stage for one of the sprinters. But it does look like a stage for the break to succeed.

I do apologize, but unless I get around to reading a bit and finding out about things I didn't see or know about, that really is all I have to say.

Now then, I could update you on how my fantasy teams are doing. OK, I hear a burst of enthusiasm (not really). Those who don't care how I am doing, just skip this bit. There is the competition within my cycling forum, picking winners or rather first through sixth for all the big races all during the year. There is a complicated system which I don't do well with, but in any case I usually am right I the middle of the pack. That is about where I am, although in the Tour itself, at this moment, I am eighth. About right for the year. In another league, where six of the forum participate I am, for the first time in three years, almost leading with the year well over halfway. On the Tour itself, I am currently third. In another league where most of our forum are playing, I am currently leading our forum in the Tour itself with an unlikely team which will not win in the end. Seven sprinters and Froome and Valverde. I am also 37th out of 1047 overall. My proper, more balanced team is actually in the bottom third of the our forum in the league. I was highly affected by my sprinters (Greipel and Cav), not act actually sprinting for some stages. Plus Bouhanni dropped out, and van Garderen vanished. The truth of the matter is that I don't read the rules very carefully, and am not that good at picking teams or winners on the day. But not that bad either. Medium to good.

Good night.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Froome and Martin, Martin and Froome

10 July 2013

This blog is dedicated to my long time friend, Ian, with whom I rode my first century in Brittany, and who has helped me understand things, and listened to me, over many decades. I missed his birthday yesterday.

A time trial is a bit tough to write about. I can watch one for some time without getting bored, but I can see how a non-fan could get a bit bored. Once you get the countryside, and today it was quite good and ended with the spectacular Mont St. Michel, repeated views of the exact same road and flags and displays and towns can take away bit of interest. Not the same as a road stage which is never the same. I do admit that ending it at Mont St. Michel, which required no cost to construct for the Tour, was a great stroke of advertising genius. And it is truly a lovely place. I have been there twice. Once with Ian (see above) and once with my wife. She left after only a few metres of the crowded narrow streets, full of souvenir sellers. I felt the same thing, but knew that this is almost exactly what the streets would have been 800 years ago. It has always been that kind of place for the two hour visitor, which I have been. I had thoughts about visiting it again, and promoting those thoughts is exactly what one important aspect of the Tour de France is. The news had figures today which claimed that France was still the most visited country in the world, although I am never sure exactly how they get those figures.

I guess we could note who did well and who did poorly. Tony Martin did what he always seems to do lately, won the mostly flat ITT. He really is good. He has nothing to do with the GC, so he simply demonstrating that he was the best. Although Martin beat him by 12 seconds, Froome put more than 2 minutes into every GC rival. Every single one. While not quite outrageous, it is certainly exceedingly good. I am sure this will give strength to the “The Tour is Over” people (and the “he is doping” people), but I shall not be one of them until I am sure it is really over. Froome was outstanding. First minor surprise for me was how well Thomas de Gendt rode. I have let this guy slip past my radar for too long. He rides quite strongly in all terrain, even the ITT, which I never knew. He was third in the Giro. I should not be surprised, but I was. Richie Porte did what was expected, indicating that he is one of the best ITT riders on earth. He is even better uphill. Looks like he is back in form, after his disaster last Saturday.

Kwiatowski was fifth, only one and half minutes behind Martin. He will become, almost certainly, the great revelation of this Tour, maybe with Quintana, if Quintana successfully attacks. In fact, these are the two best “young riders”, and will fight it out for the white jersey. I had an image of Michal K being not so good as a time triallist, and Quintana being good. Quintana was a disaster, he lost three more minutes on Froome, maybe he can get those back or maybe not. Movistar can risk sending him off on massive mountain attacks once or twice more in the race. If he does execute a successful mountain attack, on a given day, or even two given days, it will make for a terrific race. The sixth through 10th place ITT guys are very good, but their efforts are not gong to upset or change much about the GC. Bauke Mollema (another “revelation” maybe, Dutch) finished just ahead of young Andrew Talansky, who in turn was just ahead of Valverde. The two youngish riders did well and confirmed that one day they will be racing for yellow. Bauke maybe even this year, as he is third, “only” 3.37 behind Froome. Talansky had a bad day or two, and is not even in the top twenty. A bit like Tejay van Garderen who has totally vanished from the radar. Without carrying on for long like this, we can say that there are a cluster of ITT results between tenth and twentieth that are within 30 seconds of each other. If we take third place to 20th, there is only a gap of 1.30. This means that if it weren't for Froome and Martin, this would be a very tight cluster of finishers. They will never get to Froome unless they attack. What is more hopeful this year is that most of the best GC challengers come with a partner who is almost as good as they are. One-two.

We did get a change of jerseys, an intriguing shift. The white jersey passed to Kwiatowski, as Quintana had his awful time trial (he is still eighth, I hasten to add). Spots to Pierre. Yellow to Froome. GC the same almost. Ten Dam dropped one place. Contador moved two places up, to fourth with his “all right” ITT. Kreuziger, his top henchman is where he was, fifth. In fact, The GC was not really altered much, just that Froome increased his gap on everyone. Medium changes were Nieve dropping four places, Jean Christophe Peraud moving up four and Kwiatowski moving up SIX places. And Dan Martin dropped five places. But looking at times, there is not a lot to say as yet, except that Froome has a big fat cushion.

Froome apparently rode a 56-11. Some years ago, NO ONE ever rode that gear, and only few would ride it a few years ago. This is a gear that a sprinter would use for a flat stage sprint only if they were a powerful sprinter rather than a quick one. It is an awesome gear.

Sagan was seventeenth. This means that he is a very respectable ITT rider, even though I am sure he does not train for it. So he can ride a decent ITT. Sprint with the best. Climb small hills easily, up to first category. When he can do first cat and HC, then we have a total winner. Anyway, I was impressed. He could not possibly have been trying THAT hard, as he has sprints to win for the next two days.

In case anyone wondered, a “young rider” has to be under 25 on the 1 January of this year.

Looked at one way, it was a terrific stage for Omega. Stage win. Michal K in white. Very good day.

If not for Bakelants (Belgian), riding for an American team, that would mean the classic strong European cycling powers are being eclipsed by Germans, Irish, British, Australian riders, with at least Colombians and Americans waiting in the wings. Interesting sign of some kind of transformation not underway, but already made. Globalisation. I still hope the French win one stage at least. Did I say that already?

So the next two days are meant to be sprints, and unless all four of the Sprinters' trains fail, the break will be caught. I will be wiling Cav to take at least one win. But I do like sprints with all the slo-mo decoding a geeky type can do.

Good night.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Kittel, Cav and Crash

9 July 2013

One of those days when the action that made some difference, the fast paced spectator oriented stuff was packed into the last few K, you might say the last 250 metres. But during the day, the riders took it easy, throughout the day, there were no crashes, I don't think anyone got dropped, the speed was low (although of course way faster than normal people ride), the schedule a little off, but nothing happened. Once in a while you get the idea that some days are so “exciting” for us, and therefore so full of doubt, change, uncertainty for the riders that they collectively, without even saying anything, just take it easy for the day. Pretty flat geography. Nice enough. Plenty of châteaux and big houses. This week we will be treated to a high class advert for the Chateaux of the Loire (and Versailles later). In fact, tomorrow we are due for a day of “seeing Mont Michel” for a long time, from many angles. That “Emerald Coast” they skirted for 30k, reminded me of holidays. I took a boat to St. Malo once. But that is another story.

Today, I am sure many people had a quiet time looking now and again at the countryside when they saw something they knew from their past. It was that kind of day on the Tour. I took a longer nap. People will have drifted out into the garden or out for a quick errand. There was a break, but the sprinters were so hungry they would not even contemplate letting the break go. Sure enough, the break was swallowed up a few k from the finish. It was not a frantic chase. Then the sprinters teams got set up. It is true that many riders were very concerned about the wind off the sea, which had a serious reputation. It might have blown the peloton into bits, with GC riders losing time on account of the wind and bad luck. So far the wind has not been a factor so we don’t need to talk about echelons, and how a rider can be caught out.

In the end, four teams and their sprinters were really keen on the stage. Same ones, the big four seem to have emerged. Greipel, Sagan, Kittel and Cavendish are the Big Four. Look at the places today, the Four followed by William Bonnet, who is the leadout man for Nacer Bouhanni (who is out of the race). Not sure what happened to all the other sprinters, as Bonnet should NOT be able to beat all the others. I keep wondering what happened to Matthew Goss, (Orica) especially since he is one of my fantasy team sprinters. He has done diddly the whole Tour. Maybe the others are really tired from the mountains or something. So Kittel came up behind Greipel and beat him to the line. Quite impressive speed and power, Kittel. Young. Sagan was well beaten, even before Cav and Veelers tangled right in front of him. He finished fourth, picking up enough points to make the green jersey his “obvious” possession for this year. The only event was the crash of Veelers, the Kittel leadout man who was drifting back after getting Kittel into a good position. Cav's shoulder gave Veelers a push, for sure. Cav didn’t have a leadout man, but his annoyance at his team will no doubt become common knowledge. Or maybe he made some mistake, for which he also be annoyed.

My story is that as Veelers' drifted back, he kept a good line (seen in relation to the white line on the road), until he looked back right and (consciously or unconsciously) drifted to the right. Cav was on his wheel, and decided to make his move (probably too late), he dived to the right and overtook Veelers, easily (Veelers was slowing down). Then, as Cav was more or less at Veelers' handlebar, the result of Veelers' veering slightly to the right, and Cav coming around him, led Cav to push his shoulder against Veelers' bike, more specifically his handlebar. Cav is strong, low gravity and compact, and if someone pushes your handlebars or your hands on your handlebars, you go down. Back wheel stable, front wheel easy to unbalance, gravel, a rock, a hole, or a shoulder on your hands gripping the bars. Bingo. But I would consider it a bit harsh if Cav got relegated to last. That would END his green jersey hopes for sure, too big a gap to Sagan. Anyway, I also saw Cav behaving rather badly, like he did when he was younger, at the informal media swarm outside the bus. He even grabbed a digital recorder. He was pissed off at himself, his team, life, something for sure. But you can't get busted for bad and angry behaviour. Anyway that was the event of the day.

A bit later. No action by the commissioners, that is Cav didn't do anything wrong. Except he behaved rather badly on video, my wife was a bit shocked how badly he behaved. But he has done that before and survived. As long as he wins on the Champs and maybe one more time. If he gets as many wins as last year I will be impressed.

No other jerseys changed. More and more are saying the given that time trialling and climbing ability of Quintana, the white jersey winner has been found. Tejay van Garderen, for example, could never make up the time gap he has on Quintana. And it is doubtful that Kwiatowski could do that well in the high mountains. Although everyone agrees the Kwiatowski being fully discovered is one of the events of the Tour. So the only uncertainty lies in the Yellow Jersey. Nothing much will be known until the climb of Ventoux, which is on Sunday, 14 July. But there is the time trial tomorrow.

Watching a time trial is not that exciting, usually. I tend to take a longer nap on those days. Although I don't miss them entirely. I picked Tony Martin to win, and I stick with it. I could be surprised, but I figure Froome will lose no time to any of his GC rivals. He might even gain time on them all. No idea if he will win, but I doubt it. I am quite curious what kind of flat time triallist Quintana is. I hope that Tejay or Cadel do a good ITT. There are others, like Contador, about whom everyone is curious. Me too. Can he ride a good one? In any case, most agree that there won't be big time differences. Therefore I am hoping some of the guys who have nearly dropped out of the GC ride very well. But I can't actually seriously make a case for any of the big rivals to beat Froome. If anyone much BEATS Froome, that will be an event too. Meanwhile, Martin by maybe 25 seconds.

I give a short tribute to those six guys who rode 180 odd k in vain. I do support the escape, always, but on flat stages, this year, it is not terribly likely. Jerome Cousin, whom my wife likes, is setting the record for the most k in escapes. He will win a prize at the end. The other guy she likes is Quintana.

We hear a lot about how poorly Voeckler is, photos of him knackered in the bus. Rolland seems to be suspiciously light weight, even with his ill-designed KOM outfit. Lose the shorts, Pierre. With Nacer out and Thibaut invisible, there is only Romain Bardet, the climber who might save the soul of the French. There is Jerome Pineau who is one of the big leaders of the peloton, and Sylvain Chavanel who deserves to be in a successful break to get his win, which he hasn’t got. That's it on the soul of the French. I hope it is saved, it is the French who have put on the show, so French guys should do well. It has been a long time for the French. Hope they at least get a stage. I fell quite sad for Thibaut Pinot and am shocked that Madiot didn't know about this and fix it.

Good evening.

This is what they use to clean the sprinting surface each day. All the way from the Vosges.